Measure would outlaw smoking in cars with keiki

Proposed bill was forwarded to council committee

Anti-tobacco activists are hoping Maui County will follow Hawaii and Kauai counties in outlawing smoking in vehicles when children are present.

A measure to do the same is currently under review by the Honolulu City Council, while similar efforts to establish a statewide law have failed in the past two sessions at the Legislature.

The Maui County Council on Tuesday forwarded a bill to outlaw smoking in vehicles when those under 18 are present to its Policy, Economic Development and Agriculture Committee. A hearing date has not been set. Violators could be fined from $25 to $50.

Fueled by youths from various organizations asking for the law, Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura, who chairs the policy committee, introduced the bill.

“Coming from the youth, that’s a huge statement,” Sugimura said. “They are asking for their health and well-being.”

Sugimura said that in the past people smoked everywhere. But now, smoking in public places is definitely out.

“We are really excited to see this statewide, especially for the kids. We want to see comprehensive protection,” said Trish La Chica, policy and advocacy director with the Hawaii Public Health Institute, which supports the bill. The institute runs the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii program.

La Chica pointed to the smoking ban in schools, beaches and other public spaces. The only places left are cars and homes, she said.

“We are not telling people not to smoke,” La Chica said, but instead are educating them to not smoke in front of children, which could harm youngsters’ health.

La Chica compared the bill with other laws that promote the health and safety of children, including car seat laws and the outlawing of cellphone use while driving. She said the government is the ultimate protector of those who are vulnerable and are not able to make decisions about their own health.

La Chica said she has heard from youths that it’s hard to speak out when they want to tell an adult to not smoke in the car. She said children may be riding not only with their parents, but with other adults.

She said that her group has partnered with police departments. “We don’t believe the burden should be on the police to enforce (the new law),” she said. “We don’t expect them to stand and look at every car.”

La Chica said if the bill becomes law, perhaps law enforcement will give out warnings at first.

“Warnings most of the time is enough. They comply,” she said.

Sugimura said she has spoken briefly with the Maui Police Department on the matter, and that police will be involved as the proposal goes through her committee.

Maui Economic Opportunity’s Youth Services programs and those from Maui Nui Youth Council agreed that smoking in cars is a problem, said Ashlee Chapman, a director of the Maui Nui Youth Council.

Chapman said young people have told her that younger siblings have had issues with asthma that they feel are related to adults smoking.

Chapman said the youths will be conducting educational outreach soon, which could involve public service announcements on the radio and collecting signatures from proponents of the bill.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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